One thing I grapple with in my thoughts on a regular basis is the idea and practice of cultural appropriation.
If you’re not familiar, cultural appropriation (or cultural misappropriation), is the adoption of elements of one culture by members of another culture. This can be controversial when members of a dominant or majority culture appropriate from disadvantaged minority cultures.
This should not be confused with acculturation, which is similar to assimilation in that it is a process by which those of a different, minority culture try to incorporate themselves into the more dominant culture by participating in aspects of that dominant culture, but still hold onto their original cultural values and traditions.
Basically, the way I understand it is this: if you’re in the majority, you run the risk of appropriating.
I’m a middle-class, white woman. I’m in the majority. So appropriation is something I should be aware of and thinking about and sensitive to.
Now, hear me out: I’m not practicing this perfectly. I’m still learning, just barely scratching the surface on something that is such a complicated and multifaceted and personal issue.
But as a white woman, I would feel so remiss to not use my own platform and privilege to speak to what I see as a real insensitivity, at best, in my own culture. More than that, to use it to apologize for the ways that I’ve gotten it wrong in the past, and ask for grace and accountability moving forward from those who’s cultures I have appropriated or may appropriate.
As I said, this is something I’m working through in my thoughts and in my own life. Not only am I a white, American woman, but I’m also a Christian yoga teacher. I’m not naive to the implications these realizations have on my yoga practice and my career, but as I’m not through processing that or remedying that, I reserve the right to come back to write about that when I have.
At this point, I really just want to call out some really unfortunate things I see all. the. damn. time. in western yoga culture, and even more so in just western culture at large because of the rise in popularity of boho/hippie and native style.
If you’re a white woman, 99%, your friends are not your tribe.
On the surface, a tribe is defined as “a social division in a traditional society consisting of families or communities linked by social, economic, religious, or blood ties, with a common culture and dialect, typically having a recognized leader.” So, sure, you might be a part of a group of families that share the same language, or socioeconomic status, or religion. But this word means so much more to millions of people around the world, from native tribes in America, to aboriginal tribes in Australia, to the 84 million people in tribal communities in India.
To those people, being a part of their tribe is a part of their identity. It’s their citizenship, their religion, their livelihood, their ancestry… it’s who they are. Tribal lifestyle is one that typically includes shared ancestry, shared worship, shared land, shared resources, governmental autonomy, and an enclosed societal structure.
You and your girlfriends are not a tribe, I’m sorry. You’re just not.
Unless of course you’re in an actual tribe, in which case, then okay. But I’m not here to educate you; I’d rather learn from you. I’m here to try to open the eyes of women like me. Moving on:
If you’re a white woman, Joanna Gaines is not your spirit animal.
In certain spiritual traditions, a spirit animal offers guidance and protection for a person’s journey, and whose characteristics that person shares or embodies. In shamanism, an animal totem is meant to be a representation of the traits and skills that you are supposed to learn, acquire, or embody. Though people may identify with different animal guides in different seasons of their lives, their totem animal is their main guardian spirit.
Honoring a spirit animal is a deeply personal and spiritual thing for many thousands of people.
I know this Joanna Gaines thing is mean to be funny or cute, but she’s not your spirit animal. You may like and appreciate her style, and I do too, but please stop appropriating native culture to say that.
If you’re a white woman, you’re probably not a gypsy.
Want to be a gypsy? Well, first of all, learn what they are. They’re not just “free spirits.” A “gypsy” is a person of Romani or Roma descent. The Romani people are nomadic ethnic group most likely originating in an area near India. The term “gypsy” came from the belief that these people, who had darker skin than Europeans, came from Egypt, which is where the slang “gypsy” stems.
Furthermore, the term “gypsy” is actually a derogatory term for the Romani people. Again, rather than identifying them as Romani, they coined a slang term to inaccurately tease where they came from. And even if you are actually Romani or Bohemian, and “gypsy” is a derogatory term for you and your ancestors, I mean, whatever. I’m not here to tell you what to do.
The courts have even said that Romani “Gypsies” are protected against race discrimination because they’re ethnic groups under the Equality Act. Also included are those of Irish Travellers and Bohemian descent, both of which are often considered “gypsies.“ So why do we still think it’s fun and trendy to use ethnic slurs used to demean a people group to describe ourselves? When, chances are, we do not practice any of their cultural traditions anyway?
Some of these have got me frustrated, y’all. I’m not taking it so far as to say, like, you can’t eat Mediterranean food in the States because you’re not from the Middle East. What I am saying though, is don’t cheaply jack something from someone else’s culture and fail to recognize its original intention, use, purpose, and importance. Be sensitive to the feelings of people native to the culture you’re emulating. And when you do it, do it with respect and reverence, don’t make jokes or shirts or signs out of it.
It’s just not cool.